Venice! Thrice before [ooh…how often do you get to use the word “thrice”?] in this blog I’ve reviewed books by Donna Leon: Blood from a Stone on March 4, 2007; The Girl of his Dreams on November 27, 2008; and The Golden Egg on September 9, 2013. All of these were in Leon’s series of detective novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti as the protagonist and the city of Venice (Italy, not California) in a major supporting role. So now I turned my attention to a non-series novel by the same author. The Jewels of Paradise differs significantly from the Brunetti series. It’s more cerebral, slower-paced, and devoid of the returning-to-visit-familiar-characters feel of the earlier works. I’m not surprised that it’s unpopular with many readers. You will be bored if you are not interested in 17th– and 18th-Century composers, old manuscripts, and historical research. Personally I found it fascinating, but it’s obviously not everyone’s cup of espresso. There’s too much telling, and not enough showing, so if the historical stuff doesn’t interest you, there’s little to rescue your attention.
We’re still in Venice, but the city isn’t as much of a character in the story as it is in the Brunetti novels. The story line focuses on Agostino Steffani, a real composer who was born in 1654 and lived until 1728. No, I had never heard of him either. How was he involved in the Holy Roman Empire, which was still around (as you surely remember, although it was a surprise to me)? Was he a castrato? Why does it matter? Was he a priest as well as a composer? What was the role of the RC Church? A lot of questions here, some of which remain unanswered.
Not one of Leon’s best efforts by a long shot, but definitely worth reading if you’re “that sort” of reader. I am, but you may not be.